Google’s Chrome web browser has been around since 2008 on Windows, and 2009 on Mac and Linux. Its clean design and light CPU and memory usage made it instantly attractive to users of other web browsers of the time, which were in many cases becoming bloated and slow. Chrome is now one of the most widely used desktop web browsers.
In February of this year Chrome began its push into mobile – with the launch of an Android version, and a couple of weeks ago the iOS version launched. I’ve been testing this version against iOS’s default browser Safari to see if there’s reason to switch to Chrome for iPad.
Chrome is a relatively tiny 12MB download, immediately it’s great to see an emphasis on keeping this browser compact and efficient. Sure enough, Chrome installs quickly, and launches quickly too – just as quick as Safari anyway. The app is cleanly designed and will look instantly familiar to users of the desktop version; tabs are at the very top of the screen, with the navigation buttons and address bar underneath the tabs. Each tab has it’s own close button – this is much like Safari, except that in Chrome each tabs close button remains visible when the tab is not active – this allows you to close a tab without having to switch back to it. Next to your currently opened tabs is a button to open a new tab.
The browsing experience in Chrome is very responsive, though scrolling doesn’t feel quite as fluid as Safari, especially on pages where images and video are embedded, but for the most part the basic web browsing experience is so much like Safari that it’s hardly worth pointing out the differences. Chrome does excel over Safari in other areas, and those are worth pointing out.
You can search by voice – a quick and easy to use feature accessed by tapping the microphone icon on the right of the address bar. I found voice search to be both accurate and fast, much faster than the dictation feature built into my iPad (3rd gen). Chrome also supports syncing tabs between devices; this requires a Google account but is an extremely handy feature for those who also use Chrome on a PC or Android phone. The upcoming iOS 6.0 will add a similar tab-syncing feature to Safari using iCloud, but that’s not quite as versatile in that there’s no support for Android devices.
The one and only annoyance I discovered in Chrome relates to its choice of keyboard layout. Rather than use the URL keyboard layout that Safari uses, Chrome opts to use the standard text entry keyboard but with some additional buttons at the top. This may not sound like a big deal, but Safari’s URL layout provides the option of holding down the ‘.com’ key to allow for quick entry of other commonly used domain endings such as ‘.co.uk’, ‘.org’, and ‘.net’. Chrome’s keyboard layout has a ‘.com’ key, but offers no shortcut for entering other domain endings. It would be nice to see Chrome switch to using the standard URL entry keyboard layout.
Chrome sets Google as your default search engine, but this can be changed to either Bing, Yahoo!, or Ask Jeeves. The inclusion of Ask Jeeves gives Chrome one addition to the selection of search engines available in Safari, though I imagine only a very small minority would opt to Ask Jeeves.
Overall, this is a good first release for Chrome on iOS. There’s some room for improvement, but hopefully Google will continue to work on improvements. Perhaps the biggest obstacle in Chrome’s way is that iOS does not currently have an option to change the default browser – meaning that links in emails or from other apps such as Facebook or Twitter will continue to open in Safari. I’d like to see Apple change this, and allow for users to make their own choice of default web browser.